Sri Swami Sivananda
Brahman and Maya
The Seven Stages of Jnana
Jnana is knowledge. To know Brahman as one's own Self is Jnana. To say, "I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness," is Jnana. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jnana.
Ajnana is ignorance. To identify oneself with the illusory vehicles of body, mind, Prana and the senses is Ajnana. To say, " I am the doer, the enjoyer, I am a Brahmin, a Brahmachari, this is mine, he is my son," is Ajnana. Jnana alone can destroy Ajnana, even as light alone can remove darkness.
Brahman, the Supreme Self, is neither the doer of actions nor the enjoyer of the fruits of actions. The creation, preservation and destruction of the world are not due to Him. They are due to the action of Maya, the Lord's energy manifesting itself as the world-process.
Just as space appears to be of three kinds - absolute space, space limited by a jar, and space reflected in the water of a jar, - so also there are three kinds of intelligence. They are absolute intelligence, intelligence reflected in Maya, and intelligence reflected in the Jiva (the individual soul). The notion of the doer is the function of intelligence as reflected in the intellect. This, together with the notion of Jiva, is superimposed by the ignorant on the pure and limitless Brahman, the silent witness.
The illustration of space absolute, space limited by a jar and space reflected in water of a jar, is given to convey the idea that in reality Brahman alone is. Because of Maya, however, It appears as three.
The notion that the reflection of intelligence is real, is erroneous, and is due to ignorance. Brahman is without limitation; limitation is a superimposition on Brahman.
The identity of the Supreme Self and the Jiva or reflected self is established through the statement of the Upanishad 'Tat Tvam Asi' - 'That Thou Art'. When the knowledge of the identity of the two arises, then world problems and ignorance, with all their offshoots, are destroyed and all doubts disappear.
Self-realization or direct intuitive perception of the Supreme Self is necessary for attaining freedom and perfection. This Jnana Yoga or the path of Wisdom is, however, not meant for the masses whose hearts are not pure enough and whose intellects are not sharp enough to understand and practice this razor-edge path. Hence, Karma Yoga and Upasana (Bhakti) are to be practiced first, which will render the heart pure and make it fit for the reception of Knowledge.
Brahman is Sat, the Absolute, Reality. That which exists in the past, present and future; which has no beginning, middle and end; which is unchanging and not conditioned by time, space and causation; which exists during the waking, dream and deep sleep states; which is of the nature of one homogeneous essence, is Sat. This is found in Brahman, the Absolute. The scriptures emphatically declare: "Only Sat was prior to the evolution of this universe."
This phenomenal universe is unreal. Isvara created this universe out of His own body (Maya), just as a spider creates a web from its own saliva. It is merely an appearance, like a snake in a rope or like silver in mother-of-pearl. It has no independent existence.
It is difficult to conceive how the Infinite comes out of Itself and becomes the finite. The magician can bring forth a rabbit out of a hat. We see it happening but we cannot explain it; so we call it Maya or illusion.
Maya is a strange phenomenon which cannot be accounted for by any law of Nature. It is incapable of being described. Its relation to Brahman is like that of heat to fire. The heat of fire is neither one with it nor different from it.
Does Maya really exist or not ? The Advaitin gives this reply: "This inscrutable Maya cannot be said either to exist or not to exist".
If we know the nature of Brahman, then all names, forms and limitations fall away. The world is Maya because it is not the essential truth of the infinite Reality - Brahman. Somehow the world exists and its relation to Brahman is indescribable. The illusion vanishes through the attainment of knowledge of Brahman. Sages, Rishis and scriptures declare that Maya vanishes entirely as soon as knowledge of the Supreme Self dawns.
Brahman alone really exists. The Jiva, the world and this little "I" are false. Rise above names and forms and kill the false egoism. Go beyond Maya and annihilate ignorance. Constantly meditate on the Supreme Brahman, your divine nature.
The world is unreal when compared to Brahman. It is a solid reality to a worldly and passionate man only. To a realized sage it exists like a burnt cloth. To a Videhamukta (disembodied sage) it does not exist at all. To a man of discrimination it loses its charm and attraction.
Do not leave the world to enter a forest because you now read that the world is unreal. You will be utterly ruined if you do this without proper qualifications. Be first established in the conviction that the world is unreal and Brahman alone is real. This will help you to develop dispassion and a strong yearning for liberation. Stay in the world but be not worldly; strive for liberation by the practice of Sadhana Chatushtaya.
Jnana Yoga of Brahma Vidya or the science of the Self is not a subject that can be understood and realized through mere intellectual study, reasoning, ratiocination, discussion or arguments. It is the most difficult of all sciences.
A student who treads the path of Truth must, therefore, first equip himself with Sadhana Chatushtaya - the "four means of salvation". They are discrimination, dispassion, the sixfold qualities of perfection, and intense longing for liberation - Viveka, Vairagya, Shad-Sampat and Mumukshutva. Then alone will he be able to march forward fearlessly on the path. Not an iota of spiritual progress is possible unless one is endowed with these four qualifications.
These four means are as old as the Vedas and this world itself. Every religion prescribes them; the names differ from path to path but this is immaterial. Only ignorant people have the undesirable habit of practicing lingual warfare and raising unnecessary questions. Pay no attention to them. It is your duty to try to eat the fruit instead of wasting time in counting the leaves of the tree. Try now to understand these four essential requisites for salvation.
Viveka is discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent, between the Self and the non-Self. Viveka dawns in a man through the Grace of God. The Grace can come only after one has done unceasing selfless service in countless births with the feeling that he is an instrument of the Lord and that the work is an offering to the Lord. The door to the higher mind is flung open when there is an awakening of discrimination.
There is an eternal, changeless principle amidst the ever-changing phenomena of this vast universe and the fleeting movements and oscillations of the mind.
The aspirant should separate himself also from the six waves of the ocean of Samsara - birth and death, hunger and thirst, and exhilaration and grief. Birth and death belong to the physical body; hunger and thirst belong to Prana; exhilaration and grief are the attributes of the mind. The Soul is unattached. The six waves cannot touch Brahman which is as subtle as the all-pervading ether.
Association with saints and study of Vedantic literature will infuse discrimination in man. Viveka should be developed to the maximum degree. One should be well established in it.
Vairagya is dispassion for the pleasures of this world and of heaven. The Vairagya that is born of Viveka is enduring and lasting. It will not fail the aspirant. But the Vairagya that comes temporarily to a woman when she gives birth to a child or when one attends a funeral at a crematorium, is of no use. The view that everything in the world is unreal causes indifference to the enjoyments of this world and the heaven-world also. One has to return from heaven to this plane of existence when the fruits of good works are all exhausted. Hence they are not worth striving for.
Vairagya does not mean abandoning one's social duties and responsibilities of life. It does not mean abandoning the world, for life in a solitary cave of the Himalayas. Vairagya is mental detachment from all worldly objects. One may remain in the world and discharge all duties with detachment. He may be a householder with a large family, yet at the same time he may have perfect mental detachment from everything. He can do spiritual Sadhana amidst his worldly activities. He who has perfect mental detachment in the world is a hero indeed. He is better than a Sadhu living in a Himalayan cave, for the former has to face innumerable temptations every moment of his life.
The third requisite is Shad-Sampat, the sixfold virtue. It consists of Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Sraddha and Samadhana. All these six qualities are taken as one because they are calculated to bring about mental control and discipline, without which concentration and meditation are impossible.
- Sama is serenity or tranquillity of mind which is brought about through the eradication of desires.
- Dama is rational control of the senses.
- Uparati is satiety; it is resolutely turning the mind away from desire for sensual enjoyment. This state of mind comes naturally when one has practiced Viveka, Vairagya, Sama and Dama.
- Titiksha is the power of endurance. An aspirant should patiently bear the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, etc.
- Sraddha is intense faith in the word of the Guru, in Vedantic scriptures and, above all, in one's own self. It is not blind faith but is based on accurate reasoning, evidence and experience. As such, it is lasting, perfect and unshakable. Such a faith is capable of achieving anything.
- Samadhana is fixing the mind on Brahman or the Self, without allowing it to run towards objects. The mind is free from anxiety amid pains and troubles. There is stability, mental poise and indifference amid pleasures. The aspirant has neither like nor dislikes. He has great inner strength and enjoys unruffled peace of mind, due to the practices of Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha and Sraddha.
Mumukshutva is intense desire for liberation or deliverance from the wheel of births and deaths with its concomitant evils of old age, disease, delusion and sorrow. If one is equipped with the previous three qualifications (Viveka, Vairagya and Shad-Sampat), then the intense desire for liberation will come without any difficulty. The mind moves towards the Source of its own accord when it has lost its charm for external objects. When purification of mind and mental discipline are achieved, the longing for liberation dawns by itself.
The aspirant who is endowed with all these four qualification should then approach the Guru who will instruct him on the knowledge of his real nature. The Guru is one who has a thorough knowledge of the scriptures and is also established in that knowledge in direct experience. He should then reflect and meditate on the inner Self and strive earnestly to attain the goal of Self-realization.
A Sadhaka should reflect and meditate. Sravana is hearing of Srutis, Manana is thinking and reflecting, Nididhyasana is constant and profound meditation. Then comes Atma-Sakshatkara or direct realization.
There are seven stages of Jnana or the seven Jnana Bhumikas. First, Jnana should be developed through a deep study of Atma Jnana Sastras and association with the wise and the performance of virtuous actions without any expectation of fruits. This is Subheccha or good desire, which forms the first Bhumika or stage of Jnana. This will irrigate the mind with the waters of discrimination and protect it. There will be non-attraction or indifference to sensual objects in this stage. The first stage is the substratum of the other stages. From it the next two stages, viz., Vicharana and Tanumanasi will be reached. Constant Atma Vichara (Atmic enquiry) forms the second stage. The third stage is Tanumanasi. This is attained through the cultivation of special indifference to objects. The mind becomes thin like a thread. Hence the name Tanumanasi. Tanu means thread - threadlike state of mind. The third stage is also known by the name Asanga Bhavana. In the third stage, the aspirant is free from all attractions. If any one dies in the third stage, he will remain in heaven for a long time and will reincarnate on earth again as a Jnani. The above three stages can be included under the Jagrat state. The fourth stage is Sattvapatti. This stage will destroy all Vasanas to the root. This can be included under the Svapana state. The world appears like a dream. Those who have reached the fourth stage will look upon all things of the universe with an equal eye. The fifth stage is Asamsakti. There is perfect non-attachment to the objects of the world. There is no Upadhi or waking or sleeping in this stage. This is the Jivanmukti stage in which there is the experience of Ananda Svaroopa (the Eternal Bliss of Brahman) replete with spotless Jnana. This will come under Sushupti. The sixth stage is Padartha Bhavana. There is knowledge of Truth. The seventh stage is Turiya, or the state of superconsciousness. This is Moksha. This is also known by the name Turiyatita. There are no Sankalpas. All the Gunas disappear. This is above the reach of mind and speech. Disembodied salvation (Videhamukti) is attained in the seventh stage.
Remaining in the certitude of Atma, without desires, and with an equal vision over all, having completely eradicated all complications of differentiations of 'I' or 'he', existence or non-existence, is Turiya.
Purify the Chitta by doing Nishkama Karma for twelve years. The effect of Chitta Suddhi is the attainment of Viveka and Vairagya. Acquire the four qualifications (Sadhana Chatushtaya), - Viveka, Vairagya, Shad Sampat and Mumukshuttva. Then approach a Guru. Have Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. Study carefully and constantly the twelve classical Upanishads and Yoga Vasishtha. Have a comprehensive and thorough understanding of the Lakshyartha or indicative (real) meaning of the Maha-Vakya 'Tat Tvam Asi'. Then, constantly reflect over this real meaning throughout the twenty-four hours. This is Brahma-Chintana or Brahma-Vichara. Do not allow any worldly thoughts to enter the mind. Vedantic realization comes not through mere reasoning but through constant Nididhyasana, like the analogy of Brahmarakita Nyaya (caterpillar and wasp). You get Tadakara, Tadrupa, Tanmaya, Tadiyata, Talleenata (Oneness, identity).
Generate the Brahmakara Vritti from your Sattvic Antahkarana through the influence of reflection on the real meaning of the Maha-Vakyas, 'Aham Brahma Asmi' or 'Tat Tvam Asi'. When you try to feel that you are infinity, this Brahmakara Vritti is produced. This Vritti destroys Avidya, induces Brahma Jnana and dies by itself eventually, like Nirmal seed which removes sediment in the water and itself settles down along with the mud and other dirty matter.
Retire into your meditation chamber. Sit on Padma, Siddha, Svastika or Sukha Asana to begin with. Relax the muscles. Close the eyes. Concentrate on or gaze at the Trikute, the space between the two eyebrows. Repeat 'Om' mentally with Brahma-Bhavana. This Bhavana is a sine qua non, very very important. Silence the conscious mind. Repeat mentally, feel constantly:
All-pervading ocean of Light I am OM OM OM
Infinity I am OM OM OM
All-pervading infinite Light I am OM OM OM
Vyapaka Paripoorna Jyotirmaya Brahman I am OM OM OM
Omnipotent I am OM OM OM
Omniscient I am OM OM OM
All Bliss I am OM OM OM
Satchidananda I am OM OM OM
All purity I am OM OM OM
All glory I am OM OM OM
All Upadhis (limiting adjuncts such as body, mind, etc.,) will be sublated. All Granthis (knots of heart, viz., Avidya, Kama and Karma - ignorance, desire and action) will be cut asunder. The thin veil, Avarana, will be pierced. The Pancha Kosha Adhyasa (superimposition) will be removed. You will rest doubtless in Satchidananda state. You will get highest Knowledge, highest Bliss, highest Realization and highest end of life. 'Brahma Vit Brahmaiva Bhavati'. You will become Suddha Satchidananda Vyapaka Paripoorna Brahman. Nasti Atra Samsayah', there is no doubt of that.
There is no difficulty at all in Atma-Darshan, in Self-Realization. You can have this within the twinkling of an eye as Raja Janaka had, before you can squeeze a flower with fingers, within the time taken for a grain to fall when rolled over a pot. You must do earnest, constant and intense practice. You are bound to succeed in two or three years.
Now-a-days there are plenty of 'Talking Brahman'. No flowery talk or verbosity can make a man Brahman. It is constant, intense, earnest Sadhana and Sadhana alone can give a man direct Aparoksha Brahmic realization (Svanubhava or Sakshatkara) wherein he sees Brahman just as he sees the solid white wall in front of him and feels Brahman, just as he feels the table behind him. Practice, practice, practice and become established in Brahman.